If you don’t fancy doing the usual restaurant/beach/bar routine for which Cannes is famous, and are after an alternative tour of this gem on the French Riviera, here’s our guide. Some of these sites offer the chance to really get to know the local history and pastimes, and they’re all a little more off the beaten track for a trip to the south of France.
A certain Mr Scott, a rich English tycoon in the health industry — who had made his fortune on cod liver oil sales (it was called “Scott’s Emulsion”) — bought lots of land from California Hill down to the sea to build a grand home for him and his wife. The architect was Thomas Smith — a man who had built many British churches. With the help of a local builder, Mr Scavy, they began work in 1868 on a neo-gothic mansion. The Scotts never lived in it — shares were sold to finish the project — and the mansion went through a series of rich owners (and wonderful parties) before it was left derelict in World War II.
The house has an amazing number of outbuildings to cater for horses and servants, which later became independent homes in their own right. In 1882, it was owned by a Mr Wolverton, friend to Prime Minister Gladstone, who offered his house for six weeks to help Gladstone recover from illness. Gladstone loved the place — his diaries revealed, “I part from Cannes with a heavy heart”.
Become French for a couple of hours and play boules on the Croisette. Be warned, though, the French take the game very seriously, so make sure you play by the rules. It’s a beautiful place to play, overlooking the beach. Don’t forget your tape measure to measure the distance between the balls, to find out who’s the winner.
This “villa” was a winter residence for a Russian family, Grand Duke Michael and his wife. It had a measly 25 bedrooms as well as numerous rooms for entertaining (billiards, smoking rooms, ballrooms, etc.) plus several more rooms for staff. It was called Kazbeck after the highest mountain in Georgia. The Duke and his wife took residence first in 1899, where they employed an army of staff, including six chefs. Sophie loved to entertain and would apparently wind flowers around candles on the tables and link them to the chandeliers above. The Duke was apparently ‘devoted’ to his wife, but would often leave to take care of his many mistresses.
It is said that Edward VII was a frequent visitor here — when he was Prince of Wales — and it is here that he apparently met Mrs Keppel, who would become his long-time mistress. It’s off the beaten track and well worth a drive-by for history alone.
Head over to the island of Saint-Honorat, off the coast of Cannes (it’s a short ferry ride over), and walk to the still-working Lérins Abbey which was built in the 5th century. During the Middle Ages, the monks used to own all of the land here as far as the eye can see. You can stay here on a silent retreat (the monks have all taken a vow of silence) and contemplate the world overlooking the Mediterranean. Alternatively, if that’s not your thing, you can try the wine; they still look after sizeable vineyards and export overseas. Sit at the restaurant, walk around the island and get away from it all. Beautiful.
Lord Brougham was an ex-chancellor of Britain who left England in 1834 to move to a warmer climate with his invalid daughter, Eleanor. They were intending to go to Italy but there was a cholera epidemic, so they were forced to hold up in Cannes (the border was closed), staying at the only inn in town. (At that time, in the 1830s, Cannes was only a tiny little hillside village, called Le Suquet.)
Brougham was so enamoured with the place, the light, the bouillabaisse (local fish stew) and the mild December weather that he stayed a week and bought a plot of land, which later became Chateau Eleanor down the road. After the last member of the Pinchinat family died off, the inn was bought by a member of the public who still occasionally gets people ringing her bell. Look for the little plaque on the wall that commemorates his stay. There is also a boulevard Lord Brougham in his memory.
Looking for more alternative sights and experiences? Visit our article on the top hidden gems in Cannes.